When we saw Sandy approaching New Jersey and New York, we had a (much milder) frame of reference, that being Hurricane Fran, which came directly through Raleigh. Even though it was downgraded at that point to a tropical storm, it was still a stunning experience: first, watching the lights flicker and die, then the endless, incredible wind. When the eye passed over, we knew that, though the back end was still to come, the worst was over.
Or so we thought. The day after, the sense of relief, was enjoyable. The sky is never bluer than right after a major storm system sucks all the clouds away, and we all marveled over all the downed trees. A neighbor who was a part-time waitress had brought home gobs of hamburgers and hot dogs since the power was likely to be out for days, and we grilled those and had a good laugh.
A few days later, it wasn't as funny. A store near us was open, by candle light, and selling dry goods and bottled water. The owners would only let one person in at a time and obviously took cash only. So if you didn't have cash, you were out of luck.
And if you didn't have your own supplies of food, you were out of luck as well.
Ditto for gas. As our friends in New York and New Jersey have discovered, once the power goes, the gas can't move.
Everything, in short, grinds to a halt. If you're lucky, you live in a supportive neighborhood where the weather is nice. If not, things can get ugly quickly.
The stricken areas of the two states have learned some hard lessons this week, none of which are welcome.Â The most elemental one is this: a disaster of this scale is impossible to fix quickly and many people will be on their own. There was this sense during Katrina that you could move massive supplies, create sophisticated logistical operations in a few hours, and no one has figured out how to do that. Nothing has changed, except that the population in New York is much denser and much farther north. Oh, and serious cold weather is on the way.
So we see people begging for help, people digging through dumpsters for food and hear reports of disgraceful behavior and shocking neglect. Order needs to be imposed, but people need food, sanitary conditions and a clearly delineated path to recovery.
And yet, misguided though it sometimes has been, there is an attempt at normalcy. Until the outcry forced its cancellation, the New York Marathon was going to be held, and people were going to run by ruined buildings and, potentially, run by windows where people are hungry and without heat or running water. That's a great thought to think when you are pouring a bottle of water over your head.
To make it worse, the city committed large generators to the event, including some for the media, even as people were fighting for scraps in darkened streets and buildings.Â There was the potential for a truly ugly event; fortunately, the city ultimately canceled the race.
There are things that can be done. Portapotties can be set up so that people don't have to crap in their hallways. Distribution points can be set up for food and water.Â With cold weather coming, there is enough time to set up some shelters, perhaps with some of the generators that were to have been used for the race. Lives can be saved. But somehow, there isn't a sufficient sense of urgency. How can this be? How can people fall to this moral blindness?
Not everyone is succumbing. Among others, Dwyane Wade, rich beyond most people's dreams, comfortable in Florida and flying above it all to get to work when he's on the road, said this, according to USAToday:
âItâs my favorite place to play. But just knowing a lot of people here and knowing what theyâve been going through with no power, no water, no food â¦ to me, it just seems like thereâs bigger things to be concerned about than a basketball game. Even though I know life goes on and you still have to do certain things, I just felt that they canceled the game in Brooklyn, then this one would be canceled as well. â¦ The game tonight shouldnât be played.â
Kudos to Wade, who, along with some teammates, will donate his check for the evening (around $210,000) to charity.
As good as he is in this situation - and we've seen some suggestions that he may be a better man than we can know from the cheap seats - it is kind of pitiful that our leaders aren't matching his standard. There are lives at stake.